Tuesday, August 16, 2005
by Wayne Besen
It is never easy being the second smartest person in the class. To be number two means that you get seductively close to the prize, before you inevitably plummet. This is what happened to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who consistently got outfoxed by President Bill Clinton.
In 1995, for example, Gingrich forced an unpopular government shutdown, which played right into Clinton's hands. Frustrated by the cunning of his wily nemesis, a petulant Gingrich threw a defining temper tantrum on an airplane that earned him an infamous diapered caricature in The New York Daily News under the headline: "CRY BABY"
This was the beginning of the end for Gingrich. Although he clung to power for a time and unsuccessfully tried to bring down Clinton though impeachment, Gingrich's aura of invincibility had worn off and his public standing nose-dived. He ultimately left the House under a cloud of ethics violations and alienated his right wing base by divorcing his wife to marry a young woman on his staff.
It looked like the career of the hubristic Gingrich, a history professor, was history. But now, Gingrich is staging a comeback and laying the groundwork for a run at the presidency. Most democrats I speak to scoff at the notion of Gingrich rehabilitating his image and winning the GOP nomination. I think it is premature to write off Newt. With Bill Clinton out of the picture, Newt may now be the smartest one in the class.
People easily forget that Newt single handedly masterminded the "Republican Revolution" that toppled the entrenched Democratic congressional leadership in 1994. He is a brilliant strategist, a powerful public speaker, has the connections to raise early money and is a master at framing issues and conducting negative campaigns. This makes him too dangerous to ignore in 2008.
Another strength of Gingrich's is that he always comes to the table with ideas - albeit bad ones like abolishing the Department of Education. But he does often come across as a forward thinking visionary. For example, his Contract with America was a stroke of genius that helped the Republicans capture Congress. So what if Republicans have since made a mockery of the Contract by abandoning central tenets, such as ethical governing, balanced budgets and term limits. It is too late now - the GOP has consolidated and solidified power, which is all Gingrich ever really wanted.
Gingrich is in a rare echelon of politicians - that includes Howard Dean and Hillary Rodham Clinton - that are both inspirational and radioactive. Say his name and it brings forth as much love as it does loathing. Like Dean and Clinton, who also harbor presidential aspirations, Gingrich is working hard to give himself a makeover.
He has a new book, "Winning the Future" that outlines what the GOP must do to expand its current congressional majority. According to The Washington Post, Gingrich also gave a presentation on Capitol Hill that attacked the "left" and offered strategy tips.
Newt's resurrection is beginning to pay dividends. The Post reports that the American Research Group conducted a poll of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters and Gingrich came in second, with 14 percent, after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who got 39 percent. This is significant, because a second place finish in New Hampshire would put Gingrich in a strong enough position to possibly knock McCain out of contention in socially conservative South Carolina, just as Bush had in 2000.
Although Gingrich has made a career out of talking about morality and ethics, his biggest liability is family values. In April 1980, Gingrich served his wife Jackie with divorce papers while she was recovering from cancer. Newt is now married for a third time, leaving his second wife Marianne for a blond congressional aide 23 years his junior. Gingrich's trail of slime is so long that I would need an entire newspaper, not just a column, to detail his moral transgressions.
Despite the sleaze factor, I believe Gingrich - if he adequately repents - could still emerge as the candidate of social conservatives. No one will better articulate their agenda and Gingrich's conservative competitors, such as Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist
or Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, have little of Newt's charisma or political acumen.
We also must remember that social conservatives have a history of embracing immoral dirt bags such as Watergate felon Chuck Colson and Iran Contra bad boy Oliver North. The right even forgave televangelist Jimmy Swaggart after he got caught with a prostitute. If Gingrich can learn to say, "I have sinned" with enough conviction, Focus on the Family's James Dobson will likely forgive him.
Interestingly, Gingrich has teamed up with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., to work on solutions to America's health care crisis. This is clearly a symbiotic relationship where both politicians need each other to show that they can cross party lines, thus appealing to crucial swing voters who may still view them as lightening rods. Clinton is already making major strides towards mainstreaming her image and appears on the precipice of becoming a viable presidential contender.
However, while everyone is focused on Hillary's deft move to the center, they better keep an eye to the right. In this possible Gingrich vs. Clinton match up, we don't yet know who is the valedictorian and who is vanquished.
Monday, August 15, 2005
by Wayne Besen
In 2004, a group of gay activists took over Cato Island
, a small sand bar in the Coral Sea off the northeast coast of Australia. They planted a rainbow flag on the beach and declared it the world's first gay kingdom in protest of anti-gay legislation in Australia. When I originally read this news story I got a good laugh while I drank my morning coffee.
After a recent spasm of anti-gay violence in several countries, I'm no longer chuckling. The merits of founding a nation where persecuted homosexuals
can escape rampant abuse is worth exploring.
Opponents would argue that such an effort would hamper fighting for equality at home. I don't believe it would harm the cause anymore than the founding of Israel hurt fighting Anti-Semitism across the globe. This would not be a political act of separatism, but a realistic measure to offer personal sanctuary and give homosexuals in grave risk a place where they can escape tyrannical regimes.
The world is growing smaller and the Internet is now providing us barbaric images of state sanctioned anti-gay murder. For example, on July 19, Iran hanged
two teenage boys in the city of Mashad who were reported to have been boyfriends. Before their executions, they spent 14 months in prison and each received 228 lashes. The Iranian government originally said that the boys were being executed for raping a 13-year-old boy, but evidence is emerging that this is likely a fabrication to blunt international condemnation of the executions.
In Nigeria, a 50-year-old man from the northern state of Kano was sentenced to be stoned to death
by an Islamic Sharia court after acknowledging he had consensual homosexual sex. Led by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., twenty-two House Democrats signed a letter
to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo that stated, "the specific circumstances of this conviction are highly problematic" and the death penalty for any individual for private, adult, consensual sexual activity is "grossly inhumane" and "below the standards that any civilized society should uphold."
On July 23, Latvia's first gay pride event descended into violent chaos
when 1,000 hateful protesters hurled insults and debris at 150 parade participants. According to Rex Wockner's International News, the rabid mob blocked the streets and forced the event to be rerouted while chanting, "No sodomy" and "Gays f**k the nation." Police were forced to circle the participants and form a human shield to protect them.New York Blade
editor Steve Weinstein recently wrote of a trip to Africa
where he had a conversation with a closeted gay Kenyan. When asked what people would do if they found out he was gay, the Kenyan tearfully replied, "They would curse me...They would harm me. People don't like us here."
Right now, there are nations where gay people are hunted down like wild animals and nine countries still execute gays for the "crime" of homosexuality. It is not quite genocide, because many gay people are able to hide like scared rats. However, when gay people are unearthed they are systematically imprisoned, tortured or killed.
While some enlightened countries will marginally take up our cause, I think it is clear that the only group that is going to save the lives of homosexuals is the gay community. If you think I'm wrong, ask yourself why every member in Congress did not sign Rep. Frank's letter to stop the execution of the Nigerian. Do we really think that Stone Age Republicans are going to stop the stoning? And where are the rest of the Democrats?
The truth is that we will continue to see homosexuals abused
in the twisted name of religion, culture and custom unless gay people act decisively to stop the violence. Sure, creating a gay state is a pipe dream, but so was relocating Jewish Poles, Germans and Russians who were victims of pogroms and the Holocaust to a Middle Eastern desert.
Perhaps the Netherlands would be sympathetic and give the gay community an island they control, such as Saint Eustatius
in the Leeward Islands. It is at the northern tip of South America, so it would bring in gay tourism dollars. The island is 8 sq. miles, which isn't much, but consider Manhattan is only 23.7 square miles and is one of the world's great economic engines. The gay community, with help from generous supporters worldwide, could make this safe haven one of the most productive, proud and prosperous nations on earth.
It would be great if we did not have to discuss this radical option, but literally millions of gay people risk their lives each day simply by existing. It is time we consider creating an international refuge and sanctuary where we no longer have to depend on the often-stingy "generosity" of others. Each day we wait, more gay people die
. No other minority would allow their brethren to be gratuitously killed and neither should the GLBT Community. Instead of burying our heads in the sand, maybe it is time we follow the lead of Australian activists and plant a rainbow flag on the beach.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
by Wayne Besen
The death toll for U.S. forces in Iraq has surpassed 1,800, nearly 14,000 soldiers have been injured, there is no exit strategy and for all of our nation's bloody sacrifice we have accomplished little more than transforming a secular Iraq into another Iran. With all things swell in sweltering Babylon, it is comforting to know that the Pentagon is paying close attention to military affairs.
Just this week, for example, four-star general Kevin P. Byrnes
was relieved of his command as head of Training and Doctrine for cheating on his wife with a civilian. In a time when our armed forces can't drum up enough warm bodies, they are drumming out decorated warriors because they are decadent womanizers.
Not too long ago, our macho military men were encouraged, if not expected, to dock their ships in different ports. It may not have been moral, but it did often lift morale. Those days are long gone, as Neo-Puritan prudes supplant frolicking dudes and hard-nosed soldiers are replaced by blue-nosed ninnies. In today's military ethos, an empty foxhole is better than filling it with a soldier who shacked up with a fox.
Think about this for a moment. President Bush says we are in a life and death struggle. The war has cost us billions of dollars and put our economy at risk. Yet, we somehow have the time and treasure for pious prigs to fill the brigs with sinners who signed up for the military, only to find it had become a monastery.
In Byrne's case, we are using taxpayer's money to have the inspector general investigate the adulterous affair, even though it was consensual and did not disrupt military command. We even had Army chief of staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker take time away from war planning to upbraid Byrne and order him to drop his paramour.
"He was told to knock it off, and he ignored it and continued the affair," a senior Army official told The New York Times. Good thing our military brass isn't doing important things like replacing ineffective body armor
or training Iraqi security forces.
The creeping affect of fundamentalist culture on the armed forces has manifested itself in a plethora of equally devastating ways. The most obvious is how they have put their prejudice of homosexuals ahead of protecting the American people.Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
, a group that advocates ending the miserably failed Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy, recently unveiled a study that showed the military could woo as many as 41,000 new recruits if the ban on gay personnel were abolished. In the report, Gary J. Gates, Senior Research Fellow at the Williams Project, UCLA School of Law, analyzed census data that indicates the armed forces could close its recruiting gap by allowing gay soldiers. Clearly, this could be the difference of winning or losing in Iraq.
With more than 14,000 jihad websites, one of the largest impediments to stopping terrorist attacks is finding fluent Arabic translators. Yet, a recent Government Accountability Office report showed that between 1998 and 2004, the military kicked out 20 hard-to-find Arabic speakers and six Farsi speakers simply because they were gay.
While Neo Puritans are certainly not the only group who oppose gay and lesbian soldiers serving openly, they are undoubtedly the driving political force behind such illogical policy. Given the choice of pursuing Al Qaeda or punishing gay people, the right wing is on record choosing the latter. Their obsession with sex is putting us all at risk.
When not going after adulterers and gays, parts of the military are making it uncomfortable for anyone to serve who is not a fundamentalist. The Air Force Academy, for example, has become an out-of-control hotbed of Anti-Semitism and also hostile to other mainstream religions. Jewish cadets have been called "filthy Jew" and a chaplain who complained about the Biblical abuse was demoted.
The dangerous infiltration of our military by aggressive, proselytizing fundamentalists is best illustrated by comments made by Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. At a time when America's diplomatic corps was working overtime to convince Muslims that we were not on a Crusade, Boykin confirmed their worst fears. Speaking to a religious group in June 2003, Boykin said radical Muslims hate us "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian . . . and the enemy is a guy called Satan."
It is time the military bring back adults who care more about winning wars than declaring a self-righteous war on adultery. We might be doing better in Iraq if the Pentagon started paying more attention to the military affairs of our country than the private affairs of our countrymen.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
by Wayne Besen
It is the 21st Century and the cover of Time Magazine has pictures of a chimpanzee and God under the bold headline, "Evolution Wars". I turn on the television and a non-descript talking head is promoting the bizarre idea that tax cuts for the rich lead to increased tax revenue. I flip the channel and an effeminate man is lisping about how he prayed away the gay.
How did such weird and scientifically bankrupt ideas find their way into mainstream culture?
The answer is at once simple and scary. GLBT and progressive organizations have long been outmatched, outworked and most importantly outfunded by the far right. For the past four decades, conservatives have plotted to remake America in their image by forming crackpot think tanks, biased media outlets and faux research groups designed to ape respectable mainstream institutions. They have largely been successful and as a result, dominate the national debate and control Capitol Hill.
Fortunately, this dominance may be ending, as progressives finally get angry enough to act, and serious enough to organize. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that 80 wealthy liberal donors have pledged to give at least $1 million each to a new group, the Democracy Alliance, which will fund an array of advocacy groups and think tanks to promote progressive ideas and combat conservative propaganda. The group has a goal of raising at least $200 million.
"To be effective in the 21st century in promoting your beliefs, it is necessary to have a financially secure institutional infrastructure that has the capacity to promote consistently and coherently a set of ideas, policies and messages," Rob Stein, a Democratic strategist who created the Alliance, told The Washington Post. "We understand that it is very hard to promote a belief system and to be operationally high performing if you don't have multi-year funding."
The new group certainly has a major challenge ahead of it. In 2003, Stein told The Post, 19 progressive organizations with budgets surpassing $1 million spent a total of $75 million. In contrast, the 24 national think tanks on the right had $170 million in spending, along with state-based policy centers' $50 million and campus-based conservative policy groups' $75 million to $100 million.
It is hard to believe, but there is a huge $295 million to $75 million funding imbalance favoring the right. This means that when we engage in political crossfire, to use the popular CNN metaphor, progressives are shooting with BB guns and conservatives are blasting us with bazookas. We are not poor people, so there is no excuse for this.
It is about time that good Americans stand up and combat the dangerous and kooky ideas of the far right. The reason we are now in a political pickle is that we have taken the dumbest route possible: The High Road.
For years, we have patted ourselves on the back, stuck our noses in the air and laughed off surreal right wing ideas.
"No one is going to actually believe that global warming isn't real," we scoff, as we wave a dismissive hand.
"The evolution battle was definitively settled at the Scopes trial in 1925," liberals confidently assert.
"No one really thinks homosexuality is a casual choice, like choosing between hair gel or mousse," we self-assuredly cackle, as out leaders glide past "fly-over" country.
If you haven't noticed, we are out of power. We can no longer afford to dismiss the right and refuse to debate by arrogantly saying that we "don't want to dignify" the idiocy of their ideas. In the effort not to dignify, we allow our opponents to glorify the inane. When we don't competitively offer a dialogue, it becomes a right wing monologue. Until Air America, for example, Rush Limbaugh freely spoke into the void created by our silence.
The high road is quaint, but it is not the road to victory. This, of course, does not mean we lower our ethical or moral standards, it simply implies that we vigorously engage and confront the right by knocking down each and every dirty lie and myth, while proudly putting forth coherent policies that make sense to the American people. It is time we meet the right on the low road they prefer to travel on and defeat them at their own gritty game.
Thanks to the Democracy Alliance, the gay movement is on the verge of getting a much-needed boost, albeit this assistance only deals peripherally with gay rights. But, the Alliance is crucial because at the heart of the anti-gay industry are phony think tanks that hoodwink people into believing that their prejudice is grounded in science. Just look at the names of our opponents and this will become self-evident: The Family Research Council, The Family Research Institute, The Culture and Family Institute.
The strategy of conservatives, particularly on gay rights, has been to create confusion and throw enough pseudo-scientific dung against the wall in hopes that some of it will stick. Well, without proper funding on our side, a lot of it has stuck, and now we live in a stinking political outhouse. This new effort to dismantle the Neo-Puritan propaganda machine is a godsend for the GLBT community and essential for winning a culture war where we have been badly outmaneuvered. It is finally time to put away our slingshots and bring out the big guns.
Friday, August 05, 2005
by Wayne Besen
The History of Love In Action
By John Evans
I first met the Rev. Kent Philpott when I owned an art gallery in Sausalito, California. This was in 1973. Kent Philpott was the pastor of the Church of the Open Door in the nearby town of San Rafael.
Shortly after meeting Kent, we were sitting in a café in Sausalito, having coffee when he came right out and asked me if I was gay. I was quite surprised because homosexuality was never openly discussed among Christians. Kent said that the Holy Spirit had already "revealed" to him that I was gay. I admitted to being gay, and I told Kent that I believed there should be some kind of fellowship for gay people. When Kent and I discussed a ministry to gay people, I never thought of any type of a "change situation." I had been in a relationship with my partner, Ron Marano, for over 10 years, and we had been active in the Assembly of God Church in San Francisco for all that time.
Within one week of our conversation, Frank Worthen talked with Kent about his homosexuality. That same week, a third man came to Kent to talk about his confusion about being gay and Christian. At this point, Kent called me at the gallery. He was all excited. He said he knew God was opening a ministry to gay people.
Two weeks later, we all met in the back room of the Christian bookstore in San Rafael to talk about forming Love In Action. That's when Kent decided to write a book on homosexuality. There were to be three women and three men telling their stories. It wasn't long before it was published by Logos International under the title of The Third Sex? My story appeared under the fictitious name of "Ted." (Frank Worthen's story was not in the book.) The book became a best-seller and people started coming to San Rafael to find a "cure" for their homosexuality.
Next, Kent started telling everyone they must leave their gay lover and withdraw from what he called "the gay lifestyle." The three women left within weeks because two of them had been together for 18 years. Kent told me I must terminate my long-time relationship with Ron.
The only conclusion I had ever heard since being a Christian for over fifty years was that all homosexuality was wrong and sinful, although I knew my relationship with Ron was good, and I could not understand why it could be wrong or sinful I blindly accepted the traditional Christian condemnation without even investigating if there may be another point of view. I listened to the conclusions by Kent Philpott and broke off my relationship with Ron. That was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
One by one, the original members of Love In Action left. We began to accept we would never change inside. We were also disillusioned with Love In Actions strict policies.
Shortly after leaving Ron, I was so distressed that I could barely function. My mind was on Ron all the time. One day, while driving on the freeway, I was thinking about the holiest love I had ever known from another human being.
This love was from Ron. Knowing I had given up the most precious love of my life, I really didn't care if I lived or died. Suddenly, I lost control of my vehicle, and was involved in a devastating automobile accident. I was unconscious for several days and spent almost a year in the hospital in recovery. I broke most of the bones in my back. I've had several surgeries every since, along with debilitating chronic pain.
The Love In Action "drop-outs," as we called ourselves, remained friends. They even came to my hospital room once a week for a Bible study. After I was released from the hospital, I held those weekly Bible studies in my home in San Rafael with my fellow "drop-outs." They also met at my home because I was unable to walk.
One night, a pastor attended one of our Love In Action meetings in the hopes of starting an ex-gay ministry of his own. Kent Philpott, Frank Worthen, and I were the only original members there. During the evening, the pastor asked what had happened to the original members mentioned in the book. Kent and Frank started putting the drop-outs down, saying that the ministry was better without them. The pastor then turned to me, knowing that I was one of the original members. I told him that I was still good friends with those who had left. I admitted that we got together once a week at my house.
Kent and Frank became extremely angry, and Kent said he would talk with me in the morning. When Kent called the next day, he said I could no longer fellowship with any LIA members, the current ones or the dropouts. I told him I could not turn my back on my friends. He then told me I was not welcome at his church any longer or at any more LIA meetings.
That was a difficult time for me. During this time, I read a booklet by Dr. Ralph Blair, called "An Evangelical Look At Homosexuality." I prayed before reading this booklet. I was both shocked and refreshed by Ralph Blair's words because I had never heard a different point of view from another evangelical Christian. I wrote Ralph Blair and told him that I would like to discuss his views regarding this matter. His return letter informed me that he could meet with me.
Since I helped organize Love In Action back in 1973, I've seen nothing but shattered lives, depression, lies, and even suicide among those involved with LIA or any other so-called "ex-gay" group. My own best friend at the time, Jack McIntyre, eventually killed himself at Marin General Hospital Psychiatric Ward. In Jack's suicide note, he wrote that he believed that God would forgive him for killing himself, but not for having even one more "impure" thought.
I believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God. As a Born Again Christian, I believe that some Christians have taken certain passages in the Bible out of context and used them to hurt and destroy the lives of others. Some of these issues have been slavery, women's rights, the Charismatic Movement, and the issue of divorce. There are twice as many Scriptures dealing with divorce than homosexuality. Yet, today, Christians give each other the freedom of personal interpretation regarding this subject.
Hopefully, homosexuality will be added to the long list of issues that the church has changed its opinion on once the Holy Spirit showed the people a new way of thinking and understanding the issue.
I challenge Christians to investigate all sides of being gay and Christian. Christians have been wrong in the past on moral issues, and I'm sure, they will be wrong again before Jesus returns. Too many lives are being destroyed by both well-meaning and not so well-meaning Christians who think their conclusions are correct.
I have tried to make amends for helping to start Love In Action in 1973 by telling the truth of who I truly am: I am fully Christian and fully gay. It has not been easy to get the truth out, though, with the continued lies and deception of the ex-gay movement. At first, "ex-gay" ministries claimed they could change anyone's homosexuality through the "power of Jesus Christ." Now, at least they admit that their same-sex attractions do not change. Dr. Ralph Blair was one of the brave people who called them on this point.
Eventually, they had to admit he was right when so many of the "ex-gay" ministries fell because the leaders and members could no longer deny who they truly were. Please remember that no matter what any person who claims to be ex-gay says, he or she is still our gay or lesbian brothers and sisters. They still need our love and support.
Lately, I've heard that some people are actually trying to claim that I never was one of the original people who started Love In Action. I'm sickened even hearing this. The truth is the truth. Even Kent's book tells the truth of how Love In Action was started:
In the Preface, Kent Philpott says,
Clearly a new phase of counseling was beginning. I felt inadequate. Preliminary counseling was one thing, but in-depth therapeutic involvement with homosexuals was something else. I knew it would be costly. Thus it was we started a fellowship for homosexuals. Ted, [the false name that Kent used for me in the book], Bob, Eve, and Frank all helped. This book is our attempt to share good news with others.
(From the Preface of The Third Sex?, Logos International, 1975.)
Frank refers to Frank Worthen. Bob and Eve are also fake names from the book. On May 5, 1979, I, along with the three women in the book, sent a notarized letter to Logos International, the publisher of The Third Sex? The letter informs them that the claims in the book were 100% false. We demanded that he stop publishing the book immediately. We wrote:
We wish to serve notice at this time that we cannot with good Christian conscience allow these falsifications to continue. Too many lives are at stake, and if these claims are not amended, indicating that none of us have ever changed and become heterosexual and are living at this time, satisfying Christian lives with our mates, following our natural homosexual orientation, we will be forced to take legal action to prevent any further misrepresentation.
But I'm sad to say that even our letter did not stop Logos and Love In Action from continuing to sell and promote the book. They made false claims then that they clearly knew were lies. Those lies continue today. But to actually believe that they can rewrite history makes me very nervous because I know how good they are at deceiving people. I know how deceived I was in the beginning.
Now to actually claim that I was never a part of the original group that founded Love In Action boggles my mind. Even the Rev. Kent Philpott says so in his best-seller. His book was the main reason people came from all over the world to Love In Action. The history of Love In Action is not a mystery. Anyone who tries to say otherwise is just like those who tried to deny the reality of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was very real.
The "ex-gay" movement is very real. It is not just a benign faith community who has the right to their own opinions. They are the people responsible for my best friend killing himself. They threaten the psychological, spiritual, and even physical health of many vulnerable, frightened people, especially gay teens. They are responsible for untold suffering and harm.
"What you have done to the very least of these, you have also done to me," Jesus says. When they harm gays and lesbians, they harm Jesus. They will be held accountable. They must be held accountable. I hold them accountable.
A brother in Christ,
John Evans, One of the original founders of Love In Action in 1973
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
by Wayne Besen
Embryonic stem cells show remarkable promise because they may be able to transform themselves into any human body part. Just last week, for example, they miraculously helped Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist grow a spine!
Frist surprised colleagues and his benefactors on the extreme right by announcing his support for a House bill that would ease restrictions on federal spending on studies of stem cell colonies or lines derived from frozen embryos that would otherwise be thrown away. His backing of this research is a huge step forward for science, but Neo-Puritan leaders made it clear that it was a leap backward for his transparent presidential ambitions.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay struck first, calling a news conference to denounce his powerful colleague in an unusually harsh manner. He said that a presidential candidate who supported "creating commodities out of embryos would have a hard time appealing to the vast majority of Republicans in this country."
"I'm brokenhearted," said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Focus on the Family's James Dobson released a statement saying that if Frist made this decision to bolster his presidential hopes, it would backfire, as Christian conservatives would turn the other cheek.
"If that is the case, he has gravely miscalculated," Dobson said. "To push for the expansion of this suspect and unethical science will be rightly seen by America's values voters as the worst kind of betrayal choosing politics over principal."
This may well cost Frist his dream of the presidency. With no clear-cut favorite, there will be a ruthless scramble for the 2008 GOP nomination. Whoever wins the primaries will likely need the support of the extreme right wing, especially in crucial states like Iowa and South Carolina. The exception being that a centrist could slip in if right wing support is divided among several candidates,
Frist's problem is that he has veered so far to the right that he has practically no mainstream following. If he must rely on centrist voters to win in a divided field, he will not stand up well against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., or Rudy Giuliani.
I believe that Frist took the plunge because as risky as it was to cross Dobson, it was riskier to ignore the promise of stem cell research. Imagine if his opposition would have forced this work overseas, where new discoveries were made that included cures for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and even AIDS.
How would a doctor rightfully labeled "anti-cure" have any credibility? Such a scenario would not only keep him from the White House, it also would severely undermine his standing in the medical profession. Frist would be left holding the bag and looking like a medieval medicine man. Frist already took a hit to integrity when he viewed a videotape of Terri Schiavo and suggested that she might be able to recover, even though he is a cardiologist and not a neurologist. The final autopsy report on Schiavo contradicted the good doctor's learned opinion and made him look more the smooth political operator than the respected surgeon who performs smooth operations.
If embryonic stem cell research pans out, it will be a trump card in every debate against the right and undermine their growing scientific propaganda machine. Picture going against Dobson on TV after several cures for diseases were found and saying, "didn't you say that stem cell research was 'suspect'"? It appears Frist is wise enough to avoid falling into this likely trap.
President George W. Bush, on the other hand, will put his legacy at risk if he follows through on his threat to veto the stem cell bill. Not only will this potentially mean loss of life, but also lost jobs and U.S. prestige.
If America does not pursue this research, monumental scientific breakthroughs may occur in foreign countries. This will mean losing coveted high tech and science professionals to European competitors. Imagine the brain drain that might occur if the U.S. is considered hostile to science. Finally, think of all the billions of dollars the U.S. would lose if such life altering discoveries were made elsewhere. Bush and his fundamentalist allies have the very real potential to severely degrade America's future.
If Bush chooses this path, the Democrats ought to pound him with television and print ads for weeks. These ads should feature people who have various diseases who are angry with Bush. They should also point out that Nancy Reagan and many prominent Republicans support such research. This is an issue that could cause a political earthquake in a few years. Sen. Frist was smart to get on the correct side of this fault line.